Not a Creature was Stirring
A Plan for Stillness at Christmastime
I have a hard time believing this is the first Christmas I felt stress. It is my favorite time of year, but this year, I felt the tension attempting to sneak its way in. Maybe it is because I cut stress in other areas of my life by reducing or delegating some responsibilities and saying, "No," more often, but the stress would not go quietly. I had to make a plan.
I have decided on a 4/5 rule. Each Christmas season, I will only schedule 4 activities outside the home and 5 activities inside. The activities include:
1. Walk Through Christmas Lights Display
Each year we like to visit the Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama. This 65-acre estate is now open to the public for a magical Christmas Lights display. It takes us about an hour and 45 minutes to drive there and an hour to walk through, longer if we stop for hot chocolate and s'mores. I may make this an every other year event or swap it for something else next year.
If your town does not have this type of display, maybe there is a town square which holds a tree lighting or festival.
2. Christmas Choir
Our local high school choir performs at a local church each year. For 2 hours, we get to sit and listen to the beautiful music of the season.
3. Driveway Movie Night and Roasting Chestnuts
We are making a new tradition of inviting friends over to roast chestnuts and watch a family Christmas movie in the driveway. My husband bought a projector and an outdoor screen. Everyone brings an outdoor chair and blanket. We provide hot chocolate and encourage everyone to bring a thermos.
4. One Christmas Party or get together outside the home
Our kids go to a youth party each year, but this list is for activities which include all four of us, parents and kids. For a holiday party, we choose only one. We love gathering with friends but do not want to run from one event to another. My daughter and I go to an ornament and cookie exchange each year at the beginning of the month, but as a family, we only attend one party. We do not want to spend our entire month running from one event to another because of the "have to's" I no longer do "have to." I politely decline and thank the host for the invite. I had to get rid of FOMO. (Fear of missing out)
1. Decorate for the season
After Thanksgiving dinner, we decorate for Christmas. We live far from family and rarely have guests for Thanksgiving. This allows us to get to work between dinner and pumpkin pie.
2. Cookie Baking/Gingerbread House Building
I am combining these two because we often decorate a gingerbread village while cookies are baking. There are four of us in the family, so each gets a house to decorate. Christmas music playing in the background sets the holiday atmosphere. This is a great time for my husband and me to share memories from our childhood Christmases with our kids.
We make three different cookies as to not get overwhelmed. If we make more, we will give them as gifts.
If my kids argue over who got to use more gumdrops on their gingerbread house roof, I let them work it out. I am not striving for perfection here. Life is not a Hallmark commercial.
3. Christmas Movies
A few nights per week, we snuggle up in the family room with hot chocolate and one of our favorite Christmas movies.
4. Hot Chocolate Bar
This year, I set up a hot chocolate bar which is open every night after dinner. You may think, "This is way too much sugar. I could never allow my kids to have that much each night." I promise you, after a couple of consecutive nights of hot chocolate, their interest tapers off and they may have one every 2-3 days.
Here is how I set it up:
I cleared a space on my kitchen counter and placed the Keurig off to the side. If you do not have a Keurig, you can use a coffee pot or hot water dispenser. I went to the Target discount bins and found an organizer for hot chocolate packets. They also had this adorable sectioned tray, but you don't need a fancy try. Use an everyday plate. It really does not matter. I put some chocolates, cookies and candy canes in the tray as well. I put marshmallows in a jar, lit a Christmas votive and Voila! A Hot Chocolate Bar.
It looks cute on the counter and can double as decor, but it also adds to the Christmas atmosphere. Restock each night after dinner and put things into baggies at the end of the night to keep it fresh. If you do not have the energy for this, allow one of your oldest to be in charge of setting it up and repackaging every night. Tell them how much you appreciate it and they are doing a great job. Don't criticize. Stress free, remember?
5. Drive around on Christmas Eve to look at the Christmas lights in the neighborhood
This may seem like an outdoor event, but it starts and ends inside. After dinner on Christmas Eve, I give out the Christmas Eve gifts. Each person, my husband and two kids, opens their Christmas pajamas. (more on this later) We make hot chocolate in to-go cups and drive around to look at Christmas lights. We have our favorite houses and find a few new ones each year. Then it is back to the house where we watch a Christmas movie.
Following the movie, the kids have to be in their rooms for the rest of the night so my husband and I can finish any wrapping and put out the presents. My kids actually requested we not put all the presents out until they go to bed. They are older but still like to be surprised in the morning. I asked the same of my mother and always appreciated her doing that for me.
The Stress of Keeping our Kids Happy
Part way into December, I heard my kids say it did not feel like Christmas. I immediately felt responsible for making the magic happen and that is when I made the hot chocolate bar. But after taking the kids to Bellingrath, decorating and doing all the things, I realized my children's happiness was not up to me. It is up to them. This goes for the rest of the year.
It is up to parents to provide a safe, loving, and healthy environment for children. We cannot take away their disappointment, dissatisfaction, or bad moods. We provide the loving/safe environment and what they decide to do with that is up to them. They may never thank you for decorating or baking cookies, but they will look back on their childhood and remember the traditions. They may even carry them on with their own children. Let us not make those memories of us screaming and slamming doors. This leads me to the difference between goals and desires.
Kids are going to argue with their siblings or be moody, even during the holidays. If you are doing all the things to make them happy and they are still miserable, you will become bitter and angry. Their happiness cannot be the goal. Goals cannot involve people, those are desires. We cannot control people, not even our children's moods, but we can make baking 3 dozen cookies a goal. Make the cookies. Goal accomplished!
Two nights ago, we were watching A Miracle on 34th Street, with Richard Attenborough as Santa. Susan, the little girl in the movie, asked Santa for a dad, a house and a brother. I paused the movie and told my children the unattainable gift this little girl was asking for was something they already had. Perspective is everything.
A word about Christmas Pajamas
I used to buy matching pajamas. They were expensive and we usually only wore them once. I am not doing that anymore. I found affordable plaid pajama pants and plain t-shirts to match. They do match, but they do not break the bank and they are not a pressure to find. You can find them at Walmart or Target. Don't stress!
Where am I finding stillness in all this? By not adding more to my schedule than I can bear. Not what my husband and children can bear, they seem to bear more than I. That is ok. I find stillness is reading my Bible by the lights of the tree, waking without the use of an alarm, spending a few more moments journaling and reading, and wrapping gifts. I love wrapping gifts. If we do not overload out plates or allow ourselves to feel responsible for the happiness of others, we can find the stillness.
The above list may still seem like a lot of activities, but we spread out them from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. Having a month to enjoy the holidays takes the pressure off of rushing through it, forgetting to enjoy it.
How do you spend your holiday season? What do you do to lessen the tension which can hitch a ride on your fun? I would love to hear your ideas and traditions.